Springbok Women’s star Babalwa Latsha Photo: Supplied
Cape Town – The mere mention of the P-word generally sparks crimson faces. But having one’s period during major competitions can be both excruciating and stressful, especially for young sportswomen trying to build their career.

Unfortunately, the subject is not readily discussed and neither are topics such as the side effects of contraceptives or vaginal health.

UWC alumna and Springbok Women’s star Babalwa Latsha said that at the start of her rugby career, she used oral contraceptives to stop menstruating before a match. But there were negative side effects.

“It would stop my period but I’d feel nauseous and queasy at times. I was also a little emotional, so I stopped. Imagine participating in a professional sport and having to hold back tears for a silly little mistake,” said Latsha, who graduated with her LLB this year.

“As I got older, I became more aware of my body and realised my menstrual cycle is part of who I am and this is natural. I didn’t have to control it. Now I don’t mind having my period.”

She uses tampons, which helps when she has to train in the pool. And it was a team member who helped her the first time. She practised using tampons until she was comfortable.

This is exactly what UWC netball captain and law student Keesha van Schalkwyk did.

Now she also uses an app on her phone to track her menstrual cycle and ensures she’s well hydrated when she has her period and has to play a match. 

Van Schalkwyk explained that it’s also important to take care of one’s skin with sunblock and protective clothing.

Accomplished UWC sprinter and physiotherapy student Chelsea Sloan Samuels uses three bottles of sunblock a month. She trains twice a day and showers after every session, but harsh soaps have had a severe impact on her.

“I developed thrush. Not enough is said about this because it’s such a private, sensitive topic. Emphasis is placed on having to be fit and well-conditioned, not your vaginal health,” said Samuels, who now uses unperfumed, mild soap.

She also has to shave more frequently but explained that she doesn’t do it for aesthetic purposes, but for hygiene, as sweat and bacteria can build up in underarm and pubic hair.

All three women are in agreement about sport bras: the garments are exorbitantly priced but crucial to provide the support needed. This is especially true when they are menstruating and their breasts are sensitive.

“The most important thing is for me to perform at my best so I have comfortable boots, tights and bras. Good-quality sports bras are expensive, so we tend to buy the cheapest ones but these are not always as durable,” Latsha said.